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Lebanon: 'Lives on the line' as hospitals unable to get fuel

The Lebanese authorities must prioritise the redistribution of fuel to hospitals and other healthcare facilities, which are on the brink of collapse, Amnesty International said today as it criticised the failure to resolve the fuel crisis.

Hundreds of patients, including new-born babies on ventilators and other lifesaving medical devices risk dying if hospitals run out of fuel. With a thriving black market, smuggling and fuel-hoarding diverting supplies away from life-critical services, it is vital that the perpetrators are held to account.

Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said:

“The Lebanese authorities cannot continue to stand by and watch people’s lives being devastated by the fuel crisis, leaving it to private initiatives or NGOs to address crucial humanitarian needs. People’s health and lives have been put on the line as hospitals have drastically cut back operations.

“The authorities must urgently prioritise health facilities and other life-critical services by redistributing seized fuel stocks to them and implementing court orders ordering them to do so. They must also tackle the thriving black market by blocking smuggling channels, seizing illegal hoarded fuel and holding perpetrators to account.”

Last month Lebanon's Central Bank (BDL) announced it could not continue to subsidise fuel imports, causing gasoline and diesel prices to skyrocket and prompting immediate critical shortages of both on the market.

The shortage of fuel availability on the market has been exacerbated by the smuggling of fuel across the border to Syria and hoarding to sell at black market rates.

Doctors facing ‘almost war like’ conditions

Dr Firas Abiad, the Director-General of RHUH, Lebanon’s largest public hospital, explained to Amnesty that the hospital used to receive 20 hours of power from the state per day and relied on seven generators during the remaining four hours. Over the past month this has dropped as low as just four hours per day – and at one stage stopped completely leaving the hospital continuously reliant on generators that are not designed to run non-stop. Although they have received some sporadic deliveries of fuel from the army it is not enough to sustain their operations leaving them reliant on donations from UN organisations.

Dr Firas Abiad said staff were “working in almost war conditions” and many were unable to make it to work due to the gas shortage. “Soon I’ll find myself facing a tough decision: should I close our emergency rooms?” he said.

Dr Joseph Otayek, the Director of American University of Beirut Medical Centre told Amnesty that although a judge had ordered 5,000 litres of confiscated fuel to be delivered to the hospital, they have not received any fuel supply from the army or Internal Security. He said the hospital requires 50,000 litres for its daily operations.

His hospital had warned last month that in case of a forced shutdown caused by the fuel shortage, 40 adult patients and 15 children living on respirators would die immediately, 180 requiring dialysis would die after a few days and hundreds of others in subsequent weeks. Dr Joseph Otayek said they “survive on the hope of receiving day-by-day supplies from private donors and companies”.

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